India is a country that is FULL of incredible destinations and experiences. No matter what you want from your trip, you will be able to find it in India as long as you know where to go.
But, knowing where to go is the hard part.
In this article, we will help you decide where you want to go in India based on what experiences you are most interested in whether that is seeing the Taj Mahal, taking a cooking class in Jaipur, relaxing in a retreat hotel, or searching for tigers at Ranthambhore National Park.
For first time travelers, we recommend visiting the golden triangle cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Travelers who have already visited India before or want to have specific experiences not available in the golden triangle may want to consider traveling outside of those cities.
- For first time visitors, we recommend visiting Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur to have the most classic Indian experience.
- Travelers who have been to India before may be interested in venturing outside of these cities.
- If you are interested in learning about Indian culture, you can consider a cooking class in Jaipur or Kerala, a street food tour in Delhi, or exploring markets in Jaipur.
- If you want to see the most iconic Indian monuments like the Taj Mahal, you should go to Agra and Delhi.
- If you are interested in wildlife and adventure, you can check out Ranthambhore National Park or go hiking in the Himalayan foothills.
Stay Within the Golden Triangle or Venture Out?
As you've started researching traveling to India, you may have noticed that the term "Golden Triangle" pops up everywhere in travel blogs and on most travel websites
So, what is the golden triangle?
The golden triangle is a common name used to refer to the most popular travel route in India which includes the cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. We recommend that first-time travelers to India visit these three cities because they offer the opportunity to have the most classic India experience.
If you want to explore the golden triangle, you will need at least 7 days. First-time visitors who have more time can add on trips to destinations outside of the golden triangle
If you have been to India before or want to experience specific activities that can't be done inside the golden triangle, you may want to consider traveling outside of the triangle entirely.
Some popular destinations outside of the golden triangle include the Himalayan foothills, the highly spiritual city of Varanasi, and the relaxing tropical states of Kerala and Goa.
Choose What You Want to Experience Based on Your Unique Interests
To help you plan your adventure, we have broken down the best experiences in India based on 6 categories that travelers are often interested in including culture, monuments, wildlife and adventure, relaxation, spirituality, and history.
If there is one thing that India is not lacking, it is opportunities to experience its diverse culture. Whether you travel within the golden triangle or venture outside, you will find no shortage of opportunities to have meaningful experiences with locals and learn more about their culture.
One of the best ways to first experience India's culture is to visit one of its crowded and chaotic bazaars. We LOVE Chandni Chowk in Delhi with is narrow lanes and vendors selling everything from spices and shoes to clothes and knick-knacks.
Another great market is the Johri Bazaar in Jaipur which specializes in jewelry.
Another way to dive into India's culture is to explore its food. Taking a cooking class is a great way to get hands-on experience. We like the cooking classes in Jaipur where guests learn how to cook Rajasthani food from a local chef.
If you don't really like cooking, you can learn more about Indian cuisine by trying the street food. Delhi is the perfect place to take a street food tour as the city is famous for its variety of delicious local treats.
Off the Beaten Track
Varanasi is one of the best cities in India to observe the daily life of locals. Here you can take an early morning cruise on the Ganges to see people washing clothes, bathing in the holy waters, or practicing yoga.
While taking a cooking class in Jaipur is a great option, if you want to experience South Indian food then head to Kerala. Keralan spices are famous throughout India and the state produces some of the country's BEST cardamom and clove.
Kerala is also a great place to watch a traditional performance or dance show. The state is well known for its unique performance styles such as the traditional Kathakali dance with its elaborate costumes and makeup.
If you are interested in India's current pop culture then Mumbai is the best place to go. Here you can tour the Film City to learn more about Bollywood or check out modern Indian art in Kala Ghoda.
While witnessing a festival in the golden triangle cities is often a beautiful experience, some of the best festivals occur in other places. Enjoy Kerala's Onam harvest festival, Kolkata's raucous Durga Puja, Mumbai's 10-day Ganesh Festival, and Pushkar's famous Camel Fair
The golden triangle is the best destination for travelers who want to see the most iconic monuments of India
While there are beautiful monuments all over the country, if you are a first-time visitor you definitely can't miss out on the Taj Mahal, Red and Amber Forts, and the City Palace of Jaipur.
The most iconic monument in India is without a doubt the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is located in Agra which has many other impressive structures including the nearby Agra Fort and the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah, sometimes called the Baby Taj because it was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.
In Delhi, travelers can explore the old part of the city which was once known as Shahjahanabad, the capital of the Mughal empire. Here you can see the Red Fort and Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India.
In Jaipur, the Amber Fort is a must-see with its elegant buildings and palaces. You can also check out the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) and the Nahargarh Fort which offers panoramic views of the city below.
Off the Beaten Track
While the golden triangle cities contain some of India's most famous monuments, there are plenty of gorgeous structures to see in other places.
If you want to see incredible castles you can head to Udaipur which is known for its fairytale-like palaces that overlook rolling hills and beautiful lakes. Our favorites are the Udaipur City Palace and the Taj Lake Palace.
Mysore's City Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the most beautiful palaces in South India.
While the forts in Agra, Delhi, and Jaipur are incredible, there are also striking forts in other cities around the country. The Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest forts in the world and used to contain the entire city of Jaisalmer. Today the city has spread outside of the fort's walls, but you can still find people living inside.
For those interested in Colonial-era monuments, it's hard to find a building more elegant than the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai or a building more impressive than the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata.
3. Wildlife and Adventure
While it is possible to experience nature and wildlife in the golden triangle cities (seeing wild tigers at Ranthambhore National Park), there tend to be more opportunities to explore India's natural side when you venture outside of the classic route.
While Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur are all large bustling cities, there are still a couple of ways that nature lovers can experience some of the country's unique wildlife.
A great way to experience the wildlife of India is to take a quick detour from the golden triangle route to visit Ranthambhore National Park. Ranthambhore is easily reached from Agra and is a jungle wildlife reserve where guests can take safaris to search for wild tigers.
Besides tigers, Ranthambhore also has bears, leopards, elephants, hyenas, and deer.
Animal lovers can visit the Elephantastic Elephant Sanctuary in Jaipur. This elephant sanctuary is dedicated to providing a safe home and ethical treatment for domesticated elephants. At the sanctuary, you can spend time with the elephants, feed them, wash them, and even paint them.
Off the Beaten Track
While there are some ways to explore India's vast array of wildlife in the golden triangle, much more can be found when you venture off the beaten track.
Kanha National Park has the highest density of wild tigers out of anywhere in India and Kaziranga National Park boasts wild one-horned rhinos. If you love bird watching, then there is no place better than Keoladeo National Park which is the only known winter home of the endangered Siberian crane.
If you want to learn more about Rajasthan's rough desert terrain then Jaisalmer is the perfect place to take a camel safari. In Jaisalmer, you can ride a colorfully decorated camel out to golden sand dunes and into the tribal villages of local desert people.
If you are interested in trekking, then India's Himalayas offer many opportunities from quick and beautiful hikes to multiple-day adventures. High elevation hiking trails can be found in Ladakh and more can be found in the East Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.
Both travel routes offer plenty of opportunities to relax and unwind.
In the golden triangle cities, relaxation will mostly take place in beautiful heritage hotels with garden views. Outside the golden triangle, there are more opportunities to relax in natural locations such as in the Himalayan foothills or on Goa's beaches.
The best way to relax while traveling through the golden triangle is to choose a beautiful heritage hotel or luxury retreat hotel.
In Delhi, you can stay in a colonial-era heritage hotel such as the Claridges or Maidens that both offer spa services, pools, and a quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
In Jaipur, you can live like a king by staying in a palace hotel. These hotels have luxurious furnishings and beautiful grounds and gardens to explore. If you want to stay closer to the city, you can opt for a haveli hotel which is a traditional Indian mansion.
For the ultimate relaxation, stay in a luxury retreat hotel in Agra some of which offer incredible spa services, Indian traditional medicine treatments, and private views of the Taj Mahal.
Off the Beaten Track
If you want to relax in beautiful natural scenery, then you will find more opportunities when traveling outside of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.
Head to Goa for the opportunity to relax on the most beautiful white-sand beaches in India. In Goa, you can choose whether you want to be on a more popular beach with plenty of restaurants or in a more secluded cove.
If you want to unwind while observing life in Indian villages, then taking a slow cruise through Kerala's backwaters is a great choice. In Kerala, you can rent a houseboat with a chef which will mozy through the ancient canals that separate the rural villages of Alleppey.
For travelers who are interested in cool weather and tea plantations, you can head to the hill stations in Munnar or Darjeeling to take in views of endless green fields and rolling hills
Those who want mountain views can head to Ladakh, especially the city of Leh, where you can read a book while taking in the peaks of the Himalayas from almost everywhere in town.
5. Spirituality and Religion
India is a great place to go for travelers who are want to learn more about the country's diverse religions or those who would like to dig deeper into their own spirituality.
If you are interested in observing the religious diversity of India then you can check out some great religious sites in Delhi. If you would like to have a more personal spiritual experience, then you can observe a religious ritual or practice yoga and meditation in Varanasi.
To learn more about religion in India, travelers can observe Friday prayers at the Jama Masjid in Delhi which is the largest mosque in India. On Fridays, the mosque is packed with a sea of people who have come to give their respects to Allah.
You can also explore Delhi's Lotus Temple which is a large impressive building built in the shape of a lotus flower. The temple is for worshipers of the Bahai religion which has unified all major world religions into one belief system.
Off the Beaten Track
If you want to get more involved in India's spirituality then you can head to Varanasi. Varanasi is the most spiritual city in India where the people are devoutly Hindu. Here you can participate in yoga and meditation or watch the nightly Ganga Aarti ritual.
The Ganga Aarti is a ritual that is done in order to honor the goddess of the Ganges river. Every night, priests and worshippers head to the river banks to pray and place floating candles on the water in a colorful ceremony.
If you want to learn more about Sikhism in India, you can head to the gorgeous Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Kerala is the best place for travelers who are interested in a yoga retreat and those who want to learn more about India's natural remedies and Ayurvedic medicine.
Both travel routes offer many opportunities to learn more about India’s incredibly long history. In the golden triangle, travelers often have the opportunity to see a larger variety of historical sites without as much time spent in transit between cities.
Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra are the perfect combination of cities for travelers who want to dive deeper into India's long and interesting history. Agra was once the capital of the Mughal empire, Delhi was the long-time center of British rule, and Jaipur was home to the Rajput Kings.
If you are a history buff, then you can't miss the National Museum in Delhi. This is one of the largest museums in the country and contains over 200,000 pieces of artwork that cover 5,000 years of history.
The Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur is also a great stop. This museum is the oldest in the city and contains collections that are divided into 16 categories including paintings, weapons, sculptures, tribal art, textiles, and jewelry.
For travelers who love exploring ancient ruins, there is no better spot than the ancient town of Fatepur Sikri near Agra. Fatepur Sikri was a Mughal-era city that was built by the first Mughal emperor, Akbar, in the 16th century. The city was abandoned due to water shortages not long after it was constructed.
If you want to learn more about India's more recent history and its struggle for independence you can check out Gandhi Smriti which is a memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi.
Off the Beaten Track
The Indian Museum in Kolkata is one of the most famous and comprehensive history museums in the country. Mumbai's Prince of Wales Museum contains exhibits of ancient Indian art and sculptures.
In Mumbai, you can take a boat to see the Elephanta Caves. This UNESCO World Heritage site contains medieval artwork and cave drawings that have been carved from the surrounding stone.
If you would like to check out the ruins of an ancient city, then you can explore Hampi which was once part of the prosperous kingdom of Vijayanagar. This city was an important site for Hinduism and is also one of the best places to see ancient Dravidian art and architecture.
Travel Within the Golden Triangle if:
- This is your first time visiting India.
- You are interested in seeing the most iconic monuments of the country such as the Taj Mahal.
- You want to learn more about the country's history and culture.
- You want to take a tiger safari at Ranthambhore or spend time with elephants in Jaipur.
Venture Outside if：
- You have been to India before and already experienced the golden triangle.
- You are interested in having spiritual experiences such as spending time at a yoga retreat or watching a religious ritual up close.
- You want to relax with a view of the ocean or Himalayas.
- You are interested in trekking or birdwatching.
Experience India with Asia Highlights
Want to experience certain activities in India but aren't as interested in others? At Asia Highlights, we can help you plan your perfect trip to India by listening to your travel goals and needs and then making a unique itinerary that suits your interests. To get started, reach out to one of our travel experts.